Mary Johnston was born in the small town of Buchanan, Virginia on November 21st, 1870. As a child she suffered from frequent illness and was educated at home by family and tutors. At times books were her solace and her devotion.
When Mary was 16, her father's work on the railroad meant a move to Birmingham, Alabama. There Mary attended the Atlanta Female Institute and College of Music in Atlanta, Georgia. However, she only attended for three months and this was the only formal education she received.
After her mother's death in 1889, Mary was both her father's companion and took responsibility for bringing up her five younger siblings.
Mary's first book dealt with Colonial times in Virginia and was published in 1898. 'Prisoners of Hope' was followed by another in the same vein in 1900; 'To Have and to Hold' was extremely successful and became the best-selling book of the year.
It was the beginning of a long line of further best-sellers, though none reached the commercial heights of 'To Have and To Hold'. In all Mary wrote 23 novels, numerous short stories, two long narrative poems, and one play.
Her 1913 publication 'Hagar' eloquently captures the early days and struggles of women's rights and is thought of today as one of the first feminist novels.
Mary's writing and observation was so acute that even her friend Margaret Mitchell, author of 'Gone with the Wind', was moved to say "I hesitate to write about the South after having read Mary Johnston."
An early and active member of the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia (ESL), Mary chaired the ESL's legislative and lecture committees and served as vice president from 1911 to 1914.
Mary's deep attachment to female suffrage is preserved in her letters and correspondence. Her writings in support of women's suffrage appeared in national publications, including the Atlantic Monthly and Woman's Journal and Suffrage News.
On May 9th 1936, at age 65, Mary Johnston died of Bright's disease at her home in Warm Springs, Virginia.